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BOHS Report Shows Rise in Work-Related Illness Among Women

BOHS Report Shows Rise in Work-Related Illness Among Women
04 August 2023

A report from the British Occupational Hygiene Society highlights that women are carrying more of the burden of occupational disease than men and that immediate action is needed to address this crisis before it becomes unmanageable.

"Uncovering the UK's Hidden Crisis in Women's Workplace Health" also highlights that women’s figures are believed to be under-reported, indicating in gap in monitoring, measuring, and reporting the true scale of the problem. For example, the largest number of new occupational cancer registrations after asbestos that HSE predicts are the projected 3,900 breast cancer cases expected to be associated with shift work.


Double the Number of Women Are Economically Inactive Due to Occupational Illness Than Men


According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), long-term sickness has risen more for women than for men (209,000 vs 148,000). In Wales, for example, 7 per cent of men are economically inactive for occupation-related health issues, but the figure for women is almost double at 13 per cent.

The Health and Safety Executive’s 2022 Labour Force Survey shows that 918,000 women are estimated to have had their health made worse as a result of work, compared with 778,000 men. That means, 5.8 per cent of women workers, compared to 4.7 per cent of men have had their health affected by work.

The British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) is also concerned that HSE headline statistics have not included a highlight on gender and workplace health to date, but they are advised that this is being reviewed for the future.


Female Cleaners' Health “Taken for Granted”


The majority of the UK’s 1 million cleaning staff are women, according to the British Cleaning Council, and most businesses employ cleaning staff.

Beyond statements of contractual obligation and a Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) sheet, the BOHS is doubtful that businesses are doing anything extra to protect cleaning staff against musculoskeletal disorders, dermal and respiratory health hazards.

Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act should also have more of a gender-based perspective on workplace health risk assessments, the BOHS argues.


The Health and Safety Gender Gap


The report suggests that the lack of gender consideration in workplace safety may be down to the fact that the majority of health and safety workers in the UK are men, as are the vast majority of the health and safety workforce: “Could this have an influence on the pro-safety bias? Is this the reason why the UK has so little focus on reprotoxins (substances harmful to reproductive health)?”


Inconsistencies in RIDDOR


The BOHS report also notes that the statutory reporting of serious injury, RIDDOR, as a matter of practice does not include the reporting of sexual assaults:

“The Executive’s guidance on RIDDOR notes: HSE has no formal agreements with the EOC or CRE on demarcation but inspectors should refer cases of sexual or racial abuse to these bodies if it is clear that they do not result primarily from failures in health and safety management. Neither of these bodies is designed to address the sorts of preventions that are needed to manage the health and safety implications of sexual abuse in the workplace. However, it has the effect of making violence to women something that is not dealt with under RIDDOR, whereas other forms of violence in the workplace are. BOHS is actively canvassing HSE’s review of RIDDOR to address this inconsistency.”

"We are witnessing a silent and growing crisis that is significantly damaging women's health in the workplace. As scientists committed to the prevention of workplace ill-health, I am delighted that our Society and Occupational Hygienists are showing leadership in this neglected area. However, the burden of occupational disease on women is an issue that demands urgent attention from all stakeholders in Occupational Health," said BOHS President, Alex Wilson.

Picture: a photograph of a person wearing protective googles, a hard hat and a hi-vis jacket. The hat and jacket are ARUP-branded. Image Credit: Unsplash

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 04 August 2023


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